A physicians’ group is asking the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider the rejection of an arbitration agreement in a medical-malpractice case arguing there could be potentially far-reaching effects in the medical arena. The reconsideration was filed by Attorneys for Women’s Care Florida LLC and physician Eileen Hernandez approximately two weeks after the Florida Supreme Court tossed out the arbitration agreement in a case involving an infant who was stillborn. On December 22, 2016, the Supreme Court rejected an agreement between Women’s Care Florida and Lualhati Crespo, who delivered a stillborn son in 2011. Crespo and her husband filed a lawsuit in Orange County in 2013 and later requested binding arbitration under a process spelled out in a state medical-malpractice law. But Women’s Care Florida said the case should be governed by the arbitration agreement signed by Crespo — an agreement that would lead to binding arbitration through a process different than under state law.
The majority of the Supreme Court sided with Crespo, saying the arbitration agreement was “void as against public policy” because it included terms that were “clearly favorable” to Women’s Care Florida, such as terms related to the selection of an arbitration panel. “We find that arbitration agreements which change the cost, award, and fairness incentives of the MMA (Medical Malpractice Act) statutory provisions contravene the Legislature’s intent and are therefore void as against public policy,” said the majority opinion written by Justice Peggy Quince and joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and James E.C. Perry.
“If the Legislature had intended for parties to pick and choose which of the MMA’s provisions to include in their arbitration agreements, the MMA statutory scheme would be meaningless.” Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.
In recent years, Florida appeals courts have been split in numerous cases about the validity of arbitration agreements in health-care lawsuits. The cases typically come from providers requesting that patients or family members sign agreements to take disputes to arbitration rather than to potential jury trials.
To date, the Florida Supreme Court has not notified the parties whether they will reconsider their decision.